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Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Headless Woman

I try to do write-ups on all the films I see, especially those of significance, such as The Headless Woman, which polled high on many best-of lists of last year, and was nominated for the Golden Palm at Cannes. But this Argentine film, written and directed by Lucrecia Martel, confounded me. I didn't hate it, I just didn't think much about it all. It just kind of lay there, inert. I didn't really watch it, it watched me.

There's no real story to talk about. A woman (Maria Onetto), is driving along a dirt road by a canal. She hits something--we are led to believe it's a dog, but we're never really sure. She sits in the driver's seat, composing herself, but doesn't get out and doesn't look back. Then she drives on, but spends the rest of the movie in a kind of fog. I wasn't clear what she was doing--she spends the night in a hotel, goes to a hospital emergency room, etc. Does she have partial amnesia? She's a dentist, and when she goes to her office she sits down in the waiting room as if she were a patient.

Later in the film she tells her husband what happened, as she has convinced herself that she has run over a person. They drive to the spot and he sees a dead dog, and tells her to relax. But the next day the authorities are fishing a body of a child out of the canal (in the first shots of the movie we see boys and a dog playing by an empty canal).

So what we have here is a movie where nothing really happens, and it's all guesswork. The plot, what there is of it, is second to atmosphere. There are different themes here, such as loss of identity and the social strata of Argentine life (Onetto, who has died her hair blonde, is of the upper middle-class, while the boys and many others are Indian). But nothing about this film grabbed me, and at more than one point I was ready to bail, but since it's short I stuck with it. Onetto seems to have been directed to act with a confused expression through the whole film, which probably duplicated by own confused expression while watching it.

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